Clinton agenda appears lopsided

It's hard to believe President Clinton's trip to the Mideast next week can be anything but a diplomatic debacle.

Ostensibly, he is coming to watch the Palestinian National Council rescind the clause in its charter that calls for the destruction of Israel.

But his visit will be used by his Palestinian hosts as proof the United States recognizes a new Palestinian homeland.

Clinton will address the PNC but not Israel's Knesset.

With Hillary Rodham Clinton and daughter Chelsea, the president will tour the Bethlehem marketplace. But he has passed up a proposed visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

Israel surfaces only briefly in his itinerary. He lands at Ben-Gurion Airport; he will sleep in Jerusalem's new, luxurious Hilton Hotel; and he and the family will have a picnic lunch atop Masada.

We all know what TV will show of his visit — his speech to the Palestinians and his shopping tryst in Bethlehem; Israel will get little coverage from the media pack.

What a bonanza for the Palestinians. The world will watch while the president of the United States gives the Palestinian recognition as an "almost-state."

What have the Palestinians done to deserve this?

Palestinians have taken to the streets once again because Israel has refused to release prisoners who are members of the militant Hamas organization or have participated in terrorist attacks against Israel.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat continues to proclaim that he will declare a Palestinian state May 4.

And the Palestinian council that Clinton will watch in action excludes almost all the original PNC members who voted for Israel's destruction. Only 18 of 300 Palestinians who live outside the country have indicated they plan to attend. As a result, those non-participants can later announce that they never agreed to the recognition of a Jewish state.

We can only hope Clinton recognizes all those inconsistencies in the actions and attitudes of the Palestinians, and uses his speech to call them on it.

Clinton must realize that a slight to Israel will only hinder, not help, the broader purpose of his visit — to promote peace.